In the wake of his arrival as Everton’s new manager, Roberto Martinez has already promised a lot to the supporters and breathed huge hope into those who doubted him as a candidate to succeed David Moyes at the helm.
Martinez, according to chairman Bill Kenwright, has already set his sights on a UEFA Champions League place in the future, he has outlined that he wants to speak to the current staff, assess how they operate before he makes a decision on who to bring in from Wigan and this week, the 39-year-old has told of the “phenomenal” talent that lies within the ranks of Everton’s youth academy – something which the Evertonians would love to see more of.
As fantastic as David Moyes was as manager over 11-years, one of the disappointments that a lot of fans had with the Scotsman was the lack of playing time the youth were given. Wayne Rooney is the clear example but apart from the odd game here and there, the rest of the youth were rarely given opportunities.
Probably the most notable youth players, apart from Rooney, to play under Moyes were Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling. One of the best ever games Rodwell, who moved to Manchester City for an undisclosed fee last summer, played in was against Sigma Olomouc in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers in 2009, in which the 22-year-old scored two long-range efforts in a 4-0 thumping of the Czech outfit.
He also displayed his attacking mentality further in Everton’s 3-1 win over Manchester United that year, as Rodwell sped past Johnny Evans with a supreme burst of pace and buried into the bottom corner in one of Moyes’ best ever victories. But on most occasions, Rodwell was played deeper and never got a good ten games or so under his belt in a box-to-box midfield position.
In Manchester City’s last home game of the 2012-13 season, they played Norwich City and lost 2-3 but on the day, Rodwell got both goals, in which the second one saw him once more show his acceleration and smash a shot into the top corner with his weaker left foot. As good of a servant as Phil Neville and Leon Osman have been over the years, how Rodwell wasn’t given a bigger role in the midfield remains a mystery, as in the few glimpses fans remember of him, he clearly had the potential going forward.
The other was Dan Gosling, who burst onto the scene with a winner against Liverpool in an FA Cup replay at Goodison Park in 2009. Gosling kept his place in an injury-plagued Everton side that had crucial players such as Yakubu and Mikel Arteta missing for most of that campaign but Gosling soon departed the Toffees over a contract mix-up in 2010 and eventually found his way to Newcastle, where opportunities have thus far proved even more limited.
One of the mandatory boxes that the man who was to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford needed to tick was developing young players. Ferguson in his reign of dominance over English football brought through a countless number of top prospects who have all went on to become first-team regulars at United such as, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville and more recently, the likes of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, who have found their way into the national team set-up with England, too.
Moyes, who has been described as ‘cut from the same cloth’ as Ferguson, was hand-picked by the 71-year-old and Moyes’ departure paved the way for Martinez’s entrance at Everton. Various amounts of United legends such as, Steve Bruce, Peter Schmeichel and Dwight Yorke all heaped praise on the job Moyes done at Everton, and rightly so, but to say he has a record at bringing young players through divides opinion.
Ross Barkley has been pinpointed many times as a crucial Everton player in the future but on many occasions this season, Barkley could have come in for Leon Osman or Phil Neville in midfield but he didn’t. He played against Arsenal in an attacking role and earned many plaudits for his performance which almost snatched a winner, so it become an annoyance not to see him more often despite only recently returning from injury. Apostolos Vellios, a Greece U-21 international signed from Iraklis in 2011, again wasn’t given more of a chance to try and impress, especially as Nikica Jelavic’s form never really got going all season. Vellios’ last, and possibly his only, involvement this season was assisting Jelavic for Everton’s late winner against Tottenham in a 2-1 comeback on Merseyside. Victor Anichebe gives you every ounce of effort, so when he was due to be substituted, surely giving Vellios the nod in some games would have been beneficial to see how good he is.
However, it can all be seen on the flip side just as easily. Under Moyes this season, Everton finished sixth and reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals. It doesn’t sound bad on paper and some may argue that these youngsters are not ready to come into the first-team. Magaye Gueye for example has been given a few more chances than the likes of Barkley and Vellios to showcase what he has to offer but he comes across as a player who is in desperate need of a few loan spells in the Championship or even League One to help him get used to the English game.
Moyes built a strong, defensive unit with the Blues but there is no doubt that it caused 15 draws and was the stumbling block of Everton qualifying for Europe. John Lundstram, Hallam Hope, Conor McAleny, Shane Duffy, George Green, Ross Barkley, Apostolos Vellios, Francisco Junior and Jake Bidwell are just some of the promising names that Martinez is inheriting from the good work of Alan Stubbs and Alan Irvine on the youth side of the club and of course, not all of these players are ready yet but Martinez has a four-year-deal and the young players need to be given a chance under a manager who has proven he can develop them.
In Wigan’s memorable FA Cup triumph this season, one man shined above the rest of the squad and without him marauding up the wings in the final, they may not have won the cup that day. Callum McManaman, a former Everton season ticket holder released by the club, shot to prominence with his performances in the famous trophy this campaign, scoring three goals on-route to the final.
McManaman’s performance in the FA Cup saw him constantly bully one of the best full-backs in the league in Gael Clichy and one of his many attacks saw him tactically hacked down by Pablo Zabaleta, helping Wigan’s cause as the right-back was sent off for the challenge. Having that belief to bring players through and to trust in them is what Moyes must do at United but its what Martinez can bring to Everton. With a better and more renowned youth system to work with, surely Martinez can only continue to develop more players just like he did with McManaman.
The youth squad is looking strong and Martinez will firstly need to assess what to do with the current staff, as the Spaniard will need the younger talents drilled on how he wants them to play, so when they’re ready to make the step-up, they have the the knowledge of the system. As expressed before, it’s an exciting period for Everton fans if Martinez gets the time needed to build and the youth academy is something to look out for in the coming years if all goes to plan.